Pay for music, films and games, or you’ll be left with garbage

Home taping never killed creative industries, says Craig Grannell, but the current race-to-the-bottom is having a damn good go

I grew up during the first great era of piracy.

Pretty much everywhere you turned, you’d see someone telling you that if you were naughty and copied anything, entire industries would crumble, and policemen would whisk you away to enjoy a life of breaking rocks with a hammer while burly convicts broke your face.

Of course, that didn’t happen.

We copied terrible music on to creaky cassettes and swapped them with friends, and ‘backed-up’ 8-bit videogames that somehow also found their way to the playground.

As technology evolved, so too did the copies, tapes giving way to CDRs. To my knowledge, precisely no-one I knew got arrested. I suspect the police had better things to do than set up an elaborate sting operation to thwart a nine-year-old’s plans to trade a dodgy copy of Monty On The Run for half a Marathon bar.

At some point, though, copies became the exception rather than the rule. This was probably when we started earning money.

Sure, we’d still happily trade the odd game or CD for a while, but we’d also spend substantial sums of cash on new records, videos, books, comics and games.

Home taping hadn’t killed the music industry, video games or television: it had merely fuelled our interest in them, broadened our horizons, and set things up nicely for that point where disposable income introduced itself with a toothy grin.

Looking around today, this line of thinking - actually paying for media - is becoming increasingly alien. For many people, there’s a level of entitlement that’s truly staggering: the assumption that everything in the world of entertainment should be dirt-cheap or free.

Pay for music, films and games, or you’ll be left with garbage

People whine about amazing 69p mobile games ‘only’ lasting a few hours, or breakthrough TV shows being priced at 15 quid for a season’s worth on a DVD.

This has all been fuelled by the race-to-the-bottom across various online stores and streaming services, possibly torpedoing for good the concept of value within this space.

Couple that with a generation of teens that’s never known anything other than the internet, torrenting, and getting everything for free, and you have a recipe for change to the media landscape. In the sense that setting fire to all your clothes is a change to your wardrobe.

More after the break...

This could all be viewed as a very good thing, in that people today have almost instant access to a huge range of content - an astonishing amount of past and present novels, films, games and more. Plus, you might argue that technology also affords those doing the creating access to a larger audience than ever.

But with people increasingly delving into digital and yet becoming less likely to pay, those making content may soon be devoid of income from it. You might argue that no-one owes anyone a living, least of all people faffing about all day writing or making music, and that’s fair enough.

And yet our culture is so heavily indebted to great media that the prospect that we might one day have to do without it is truly terrifying.

It’s hard to see what’s in store in a decade’s time. Perhaps more creative types will become hobbyists, but that eradicates any kind of schedule and hampers the scope of what might be achieved.

Maybe we’ll increasingly see the return of a more overt class-oriented art and culture split, where those who can afford a creative lifestyle get the opportunity to play at being pop star or author, whereas everyone else cannot.

Image credit: Marc Brüneke/Flickr

Worse, there’s the very real likelihood media will reduced to lowest-common-denominator content with extremely mass-market appeal that draws in enough eyeballs to appease advertisers. Everything will be financed by brands, nothing will take risks or cause offence, and creativity and objectivity will be wrecked. Sounds amazing.

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There are beacons of hope: original series on Netflix; Bandcamp enabling musicians to easily market and sell music online; the slow but steady rise of commercial digital comics; fans of great content recognising what’s happening and making an effort to spend rather than download.

But it feels like screaming into the wind, and every time someone opens their BitTorrent client rather than their wallet, we inch closer to that point where Dancing Brother Idol Factor On Ice (directed by Michael Bay) sits atop every chart for the rest of our lives.

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Comments

@boberto: I entirely agree with the notion that studios should make content rapidly avaiable worldwide for a reasonable price, and it's something I've written about in the past. However, there is still that problem of people paying anything. I've seen people do that constant wriggling out of doing so. "Well, I'll pay for it when it's on iTunes." "Wow, that's expensive. I'll just grab the DVD." "Gosh, that DVD's 20 quid. Well, I'll grab it in the sale." "Hmm. It's still seven quid. And I already saw it anyway via a torrented download, so I'll spend my money on something else by the same studio." And then rinse/repeat.

And then things are even worse when it comes to gaming. I cover mobile for various sites, and not a day goes by where I don't see someone whining about an initially free game having a payment gate (even if it's a one-off 69p) or an amazing gaming experience 'only' lasting a few hours. I wonder what such people would have made of gaming in the 1980s, when even the cheapest titles were two quid, and the vast majority of those were total garbage.

I agree with a lot in this article. But I must add a couple of points; the last box set of a series that I bought for myself ended up with the Americans cancelling the show leaving it on a cliffhanger that never saw any closure, making me regret buying it in the first place, you never know if your investment is going to lead to a dead end.

The industry is also not helping themselves by paying artists / actors etc way too much money when they could be investing the revenue in quality, production and piracy prevention. I read recently that an artist had a pair of earrings worth 750,000! If you put a chocolate bar on a table in the middle of a street, someone's gonna take it. It's the industry's responsibility to spend their money wisely and protect their products.

i've been playing a particular mobile game recently and I'll admit I tried to get around paying for an in-app purchase, but they had protected their system too well, and I like the game so much that I paid up and they deserve it, point made.

Several good points raised,and we don't want to end up in the situation you describe where media becomes such dross. And you neatly avoid making the assumption most (particularly politicians and media producers) make,which is that a pirated copy I'd a list sale. However you fail to address one of the major reasons that people pirate media,which is the various industries, and in particular movies, inability to come up with anything resembling a global market. Until the problems of disparate release dates,and lack of price parity across borders is resolved, it's gong to continue. And the industries continuing blinkered attitude to this is only going to make it worse.

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